The Sitter is exactly what it looks like—a hybrid of Superbad and Adventures in Babysitting. It actually works more than it probably should, mostly due to Jonah Hill’s gift for improv, but David Gordon Green has and can do better.
Before Pineapple Express, David Gordon Green was a “serious” director. That’s not to discredit comedy as a genre but he was never a part of the Apatow club until that film. His debut George Washington is an indie classic currently on the Criterion Collection roster. However after a few indie hits (and some minor misses) he took a complete detour to direct the Seth Rogen penned and starring pot comedy. Not only is it one of Rogen’s best films but it’s also a high point in Green’s career.
Since then Green has been wrapped up in the comedy world, most notably directing Danny McBride in the show Eastbound and Down and the mostly maligned Your Highness. Those hoping for a bounce back from that disappointment will be mildly happy with The Sitter. Written by newcomers Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka it feels like most of the issues lay with the script. It’s a run of the mill one-nighter comedy, meaning it all takes place over one evening. And while those are a dime a dozen, that doesn’t mean it can’t be done well (ahem, Superbad). But what makes a film like Superbad great is that it’s penchant for situation comedy never comes at the cost of building the characters. By the end of film the audience felt like they really knew the characters. Not so for The Sitter. And that’s unfortunate because it really does have some genuine laughs.
Jonah Hill is Noah Griffith, a lazy and lost guy in his mid-20′s who gets roped into babysitting some neighborhood kids. Just as he’s settling down with Slater (Max Records), a severely anxious 13-year-old, Blithe (Landry Bender) who’s overly obsessed with celebrity culture and Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez), a recently adopted Hispanic boy set on destroying and blowing up everything in sight, Noah gets a call from his hot but vacant “girlfriend” Marisa (Ari Graynor) saying she finally wants to have sex. More than just a little excited by the proposition, she tells him that she also wants him to pick up some cocaine on the way. Against his better judgement, Noah decides to get the drugs and bring them to her in the hopes of getting laid.
But what about the kids? Well, they just have to tag along. From there it’s a comedy of errors that really begins to derail when Noah buys the drugs from Karl (Sam Rockwell) only to realize later that Rodrigo unknowingly stole some drugs. Now Noah’s $10K deep.
A lot of the comedy steers a bit too close to “these are adult situations but with kids!” territory, but it never quite crosses that line. Many of the adventures Noah and the kids find themselves in are actually quite funny too, mostly to Jonah Hill’s credit, but it’s the predictability of every outcome that ultimately destroys the momentum. It’s the type of film where everything must resolve itself by the end and whereas that may be easy for the sorta grown-up Noah, it’s a bit harder to expect kids to completely change overnight. Of course Noah has to bond with these kids and everyone must learn a lesson but it ends up feeling forced, not organic. That’s not to say that Hill and the kids don’t have chemistry. Suprisingly, all four bounce really well off each other. It’s just that Noah’s personality and problems, along with each kid’s, are peppered awkwardly throughout the film.
For someone with Green’s experience and mastery of the visual medium, one would think he could polish the rough edges, of which there are many. As a director who built himself on character pictures, these characters never really feel like the completely round people he wants them to be and, thus, the payoffs never really hit their targets. Still, Jonah Hill is admittedly great, as is Rockwell as the film’s villain, and it is a very funny film despite all its shortcomings.
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